Hepatitis C Associated with Higher Heart Disease Risk

It is well-known that patients with hepatitis C face a higher risk of liver complications; however, a new study discovered that the heart could also be in trouble.

It is well-known that patients with hepatitis C face a higher risk of liver complications; however, a new study discovered that the heart could also be in trouble.

Eric Seaberg, PhD, and colleagues from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found strong evidence suggesting that patients with hepatitis C are also at a higher risk for heart disease. Many people with hepatitis C are also infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), but the researchers found that the second virus was not a factor in the increased heart problems risk.

“People infected with hepatitis C are already followed regularly for signs of liver disease, but our findings suggest clinicians who care for them should also assess their overall cardiac risk profile regularly,” one of the authors Wendy Post, MD, MS, said in a news release.

The analysis included 994 males without heart disease ranging from ages 40 to 70. Of those, 613 only had HIV, 70 had both viruses, and 17 only had hepatitis C. The participants underwent cardiac CT scans to measure fat and calcium deposits in the heart vessels.

According to the results published in The Journal of Infectious Disease, the patients with hepatitis C, regardless of HIV status, had 30% more calcified plague in the arteries which is the main contributor to heart disease and stroke. Those patients had significantly more coronary artery calcium (CAC), any plague, and noncalcified plague. Hepatitis C and HIV were both linked to 42% more noncalcified fatty buildup.

“In addition, those who had higher levels of circulating hepatitis C virus in their blood were 50% more likely to have clogged arteries, compared with men without hepatitis C,” the statement said.

Higher levels mean that the virus is not well controlled which can lead to inflammation in the body that can contribute to heart disease. Therefore, patients with hepatitis C should undergo cardiac evaluation at least every year, Post advised.

“We have strong reason to believe that infection with hepatitis C fuels cardiovascular disease, independent of HIV, and sets the stage for subsequent cardiovascular trouble,” Seaberg, assistant professor of epidemiology at the school, concluded. “We believe our findings are relevant to anyone infected with hepatitis C regardless of HIV status.”

The authors suggested that future studies should evaluate the impact of hepatitis C treatment on heart plaque.